Terrorism risk rises beneath Afghanistan’s new Taliban authorities: specialists

Taliban troops patrol a runway one day after US troops withdrew from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021.

Stringer | Reuters

The Taliban in Afghanistan have appointed a new interim government led by hardliners as the group pledges to establish strict Islamic rule over the country of around 40 million people. The new cabinet of the newly restored Islamic emirate Afghanistan contains no women and no positions for opposition or ethnic or religious minorities.

Few in the international community foresaw the speed at which the militant Islamist group would take over Afghanistan and make a series of staggering territorial gains in July and August as the US withdrew its troops to end its 20-year war in the country.

The Taliban’s steps so far show that they are not keeping the group’s earlier promise of an “inclusive” government, even if the steps jeopardize Western financial aid and are not a good sign for those who wanted to rid Afghanistan of terrorist activities. Experts warn that the global jihad movement will feel encouraged, which they see as a triumph in Afghanistan.

“For the foreseeable future, Afghanistan will be led by senior Taliban leaders, many of whom include the worst of the worst,” Michael Kugelman, assistant director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, told CNBC on Wednesday. Kugelman specifically referred to members of the Haqqani network, known as the most brutal faction in the Taliban.

In a controversial appointment, Sirajuddin Haqqani became Afghanistan’s interior minister in charge of police and security. Haqqani is the leader of the Haqqani network, which is known to have links with al-Qaeda. He is on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and is considered a global terrorist. The provision of a safe haven for al-Qaeda by the Taliban in the 1990s prompted the US to invade Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

In the years since the US invasion, Haqqani has used violent tactics as a deputy to the Afghan Taliban, including using death squads for executions and posting videos of mass beheadings.

A story of mass attacks with victims

The Sunni Islamist Haqqani Network was founded in the 1970s, fought against the Soviet Union-backed Afghan regime in the 1980s, and later pioneered the use of suicide bombings in Afghanistan involving thousands of American, coalition and Afghan soldiers were killed and injured. High-profile attacks include the suicide attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul in 2008 and a 20-hour siege of the US embassy in Kabul in 2011, in which 16 Afghans were killed.

It is important to note that while some Taliban officials say the group will be more conciliatory now than in the past and will adhere to certain international norms, the group itself is not a monolith; Rather, it consists of numerous factions with different extremism and a tendency to support other terrorist groups.

And while the Taliban’s main rival is ISIS-K or the Islamic State of Khorasan, there are links between ISIS-K and the Haqqani network, according to Sajjan Gohel, international security director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.

“There has indeed been a tactical and strategic convergence between the Islamic State-Khorasan and the Haqqanis, if not the entire Taliban,” Gohel wrote in a comment for Foreign Policy magazine in late August. “The Taliban are made up of several factions, each with their own leadership, structure and control over Afghan territory,” he said.

“I think you envision a situation where whatever type of government we have in Afghanistan, just because you have control of the Taliban would increase the risk of terrorism,” said Kugelman. “The Taliban are not known for denying their militant partners in the country space, with the exception of ISIS-K, which is their rival.”

“But let’s be clear here,” he added. “You will have several members of the Haqqani network – which has been implicated in some of the most terrifying terrorist attacks, with the highest number of victims, in Afghanistan over the years – and several of those leaders will occupy these top positions, including the Home Office, and that is clearly a big reason of concern, no matter how you cut it. ”

“Terrorist groups under the umbrella of the Taliban”

Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has led the Taliban since the death of his predecessor in a drone attack in 2016, will remain the supreme authority over the group’s religious, political and military affairs. Akhundzada, a hard-line cleric whose son was a suicide bomber, has vowed that the new government will persecute the Sharia government.

Muhammad Hassan Akhund, Afghanistan’s foreign minister prior to the 2001 US invasion, has been appointed prime minister.

“The government introduced today includes a constellation of hardliners in the Taliban leadership,” Peter Michael McKinley, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, told CNBC on Wednesday. He noted that the FBI has a multi-million dollar bounty on Haqqani for terrorist acts against troops and civilians and that the position of defense minister has been transferred to Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of the late Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

Taliban members gather and give speeches outside Herat Governorate after the completion of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 in Herat, Afghanistan.

Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“So if the Taliban wanted to signal to the international community that they were taking a different line than the government they ran between 1996 and 2001, this is not the best place to start.”

The Foreign Ministry has reiterated its concerns about the record of some of the men in the new Afghan government and reiterated its expectation that Afghanistan will not threaten other nations and provide humanitarian access to the country.

The greatest fear in the international community, said Nader Nadery, a senior member of the Afghan peace negotiation team, is a “consolidation of the power of all terrorist groups.” [under] the roof of the Taliban and the space that the Taliban offer them. ”

However, given all this, “a lot of calculations need to be made in the country to respond to the looming humanitarian crisis,” McKinley said. And for that they need money.

With an economy largely dependent on development aid and a government 80% funded by Western donors, the Taliban must “address at least some international concerns,” he said. “So opening signs are not encouraging, but we have to work with what comes in the days to come in terms of actual action.”

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